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Plants: Native Seed Gene Bank

A division taking root at the San Diego Zoo Institute for Conservation Research is wild about native plants. Researchers with the Applied Plant Ecology Division are working on botanical conservation projects that aim to restore native vegetation as well as highlight the San Diego region as a biodiversity hotspot.

So many plants!

Of California’s 6,000 native plant species, more than 1,500 can be found in San Diego County! To study and preserve the diversity of native species, researchers at the Institute's Native Seed Gene Bank are collecting seeds from every species in San Diego County and plan to store multiple samples for each. For each species banked, 10,000 to 20,000 seeds are gathered from at least 100 individual plants to represent a full range of diversity. The seeds are then taken to the Botanical Conservation Center, a straw-bale, solar-powered building on San Diego Zoo Safari Park grounds. Scientists, interns, and volunteers hand separate the seeds from the leaves, fruit, or other flower material, then dry and shift the seeds to further separate them from the chaff, their husks, or seed coverings before they go through a mechanized seed separator to further isolate them. The seeds are dried before being counted and stored in cold and dry conditions. They are then placed in specially designed foil envelopes, one for long-term storage in a chest freezer in the Institute's lab and the other as an active sample. This will be used periodically to test the seeds and make sure they’re still viable.

Working with others

The Native Seed Gene Bank is a part of a global initiative by Kew Royal Botanic Gardens, called the Millennium Seed Bank Project. The project aims to collect and preserve seeds from 10 percent of the world’s flowering plants. We are also working with the Plant Atlas Project at the San Diego Natural History Museum in Balboa Park and the Port of San Diego to help restore salt marsh birds back to their native range. As the Applied Plant Ecology Division grows, future projects and seed collections for the Native Seed Gene Bank will further our understanding of native plants and, in turn, promote botanic conservation.